After a high-profile launch marred by software glitches, it appears that Barnes & Noble’s Nook has recovered from its initial growing pains quite nicely. It even added a second eReader, the Nook Wi-Fi.
Borrowing a concept from Apple’s popular iPad, the Nook Wi-Fi features a scaled-back version of the top-of-the-line Nook model by taking out 3G capability. Even more important is how much it scales back on price, forcing mighty Amazon to respond in kind with a cheaper Kindle 3 lineup.
So do you get what you pay for with the Nook Wi-Fi or does the device go above and beyond the call of duty? Let’s take a closer look.
Price: At $149, the Nook Wi-Fi sports one of the lowest price tags for an eReader out there. But while most eReaders in that price range typically offer a bare-bones eReader that’s light on features, the Nook Wi-Fi is almost as feature-laden as its more expensive $199 Nook brother with 3G. It sports the the same dual screen layout with an E Ink reader on the upper screen and a colored touchscreen on the lower screen. It also features the same dimensions, file compatibility and applications. Basically, the only difference is the white back, the lack of 3G and the lower price tag. It’s still not the magic $99 price point many say eReaders should aim for. But it’s pretty darn close, especially given the extra set of features the device offers. That alone deserves an extra bump in its overall score.
Ease of use: When doing a review, I always make a point to operate a device without reading instructions first — just to see how user-friendly it is. Using this test, I found the Nook Wi-Fi quite easy to operate. I figured out how to adjust text sizes, set up my Wi-Fi router and download books from the store with no problems. The main touchscreen menu is also intuitive and can be understood easily even by folks who may not be so tech-inclined. Speaking of the touchscreen...
Dual screen: The use of two screens gives the Nook extra flexibility compared to more traditional single-screen readers such as the Kindle. You still get the paper-like display that’s easier on the eyes for extended reading. But the touchscreen also adds more interface options, whether it be for navigating menus, using apps or Web browsing. Build quality for the device overall also feels solid and comfortable. Having built-in speakers is a nice touch, although the volume is a bit low even at the highest setting.
Dedicated eBook store: This may not exactly be a “pro” for supporters of more open book sources. But for your typical consumer, being connected to Barnes & Noble’s eBook store means convenient access to a large number of titles, including the newest bestsellers. There’s also a section for free eBook downloads. On a related note, downloading books via Wi-Fi was pretty fast.
Other extras, EPUB: Besides book reading, the device lets you listen to music, play games and surf on the Web via a beta browsing program. The Nook Wi-Fi also has a “LendMe” feature that allows you to share books with other users. You can only do it once and just for 14 days but still better than nothing. Support for EPUB is also a nice plus, especially when compared to proprietary formats such as Amazon's AZW, which locks you into one brand (i.e. the Kindle).
Battery life: This is the biggest gripe I have about the device so far. After spending a few hours browsing via the LCD screen, I left the device on sleep mode with Wi-Fi on for a few days and didn’t touch it. The battery died in about five days. Even with Wi-Fi disabled by turning on Airplane Mode, the battery still appeared to drain faster than the 10 days B&N claims. I’m not sure if the LCD screen has anything to do with it or if some other program was running in background that I wasn’t aware of. In comparison, battery drain for another dual-screen reader, the Spring Design Alex, practically was reduced to a crawl with Wi-Fi and the LCD screen turned off. I recommend just turning the device completely off if you want to save battery life. But that means going through the extended bootup process each time, which — at about 1 minute and 15 seconds — is longer than some other eReaders I’ve tried.
OK contrast: Among the eReaders I’ve tried out so far, I have yet to see one with better contrast that Sony’s PRS-300 Reader Pocket. The Nook is no exception. Background is a bit gray, although better than its dual-screen rival, the Alex. Text is also bit fuzzy on the edges, particularly under natural lighting. I didn’t notice this too much reading indoors but it became noticeable whenever I read inside a car during the daytime.
Slow browsing, small LCD: Web browsing is still not ready for prime time, which I guess is understandable since the browser I tried was still in beta testing. Unlike the speedy downloads you see when getting eBooks, browsing the Web with the device is pretty slow. The small size of the LCD screen also makes it tough to browse with. You can try viewing Web sites via the black-and-white display, but doing so is a bit laggy.
Limited Android experience: While it comes with its own share of apps, the Nook doesn’t provide the same freedom to tinker with Android like the rival Alex eReader does. The custom Android OS for the Nook Wi-Fi is certainly a treat for non-tech savvy folks who want an easy-to-use interface. But don’t expect a full Android experience with it.
An easy-to-use interface, along with a good feature set makes the Nook a solid entry into the crowded eReader market. The Nook Wi-Fi is already a nice eReader in its own right. But the $149 price tag (as of this review) makes this device even more attractive — especially when compared to the more bare bones eReaders you typically get in that price range. It certainly has its share of drawbacks. But those drawbacks aren’t quite as glaring when you factor in its low price. Overall, I think that the Nook Wi-Fi is one of the best eReaders out in the market today.
*Read our list of eBook reader recommendations in our Top eReader Roundup.